Todd McGowan on pleasure as a disavowing of the enjoyments that come to define us

Extracts from “Enjoying What We Do Not Have”


Bataille … does not try to reduce sacrifice to some form of interest. Instead, he accepts sacrifice as an act performed for its own sake. Societies sacrifice, according to Bataille, because sacrifice is essential to their functioning and because they enjoy it. He claims


– Todd McGowan


We need a reason to sacrifice not because we otherwise aren’t willing to sacrifice but because a reason allows us to disavow the traumatic nature of our own enjoyment. We can tell ourselves that we are sacrificing not for the sake of our enjoyment but for the sake of what we gain from that sacrifice. In this way, reasons for our sacrifices have the effect of accommodating sacrifice to the modern demand for utility.


– Todd McGowan


failure to see that sacrifice occurs for its own sake stems from the ubiquity of thinking from the perspective of the final cause.


– Todd McGowan


Male subjectivity always strives for the ultimate enjoyment that it posits in the unattainable position of exceptionality. Its enjoyment is always futural, and it depends on the act of obtaining or having its object. Female subjectivity provides enjoyment through what it doesn’t have; one enjoys one’s loss as a female subject.


female logic of not-having … has its basis in loss itself and the impossibility of overcoming it. Rather than viewing the social order in terms of friend and enemy, inside and outside, or rule and exception, the logic of the not-all posits that there are only enemies, only outsiders, and only exceptions. The point is not that everyone is a friend but that everyone is an enemy, including oneself. According to this idea of the universalized exception, we can’t erect a firm distinction between inside and outside because those inside — friends — are defined solely in terms of what they don’t have, and this renders them indistinct from those outside — enemies. Our enjoyment of the social bond operates according to the logic of not-having: we enjoy the shared experience of loss. But the pleasure that we take in the social bond follows from the male logic of the all and the exception. We find pleasure in the possibility of having a collective identity that sets us apart from outsiders. This pleasure works in one sense to facilitate our enjoyment by hiding it from us. While most members of a society can accept the pleasure that derives from a sense of having a collective identity — almost no one objects to the affirmation of national unity embodied by a flag, for instance — few can embrace the idea that the social bond exists through a shared sense of loss.

the moments when the shared sense of loss becomes visible are often quickly followed by the attempt to assert a positive collective identity.

when enjoyment becomes visible, we retreat toward pleasure.


– Todd McGowan


We find our enjoyment through that of the other rather than intrinsically within ourselves. Our envy of the other’s enjoyment persists because this is the mode through which we ourselves enjoy

– Todd McGowan


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